By Paul DeMarco, commentary
BIRMINGHAM — Throughout the pandemic, most of Alabama state government has continued to operate.
There are still state troopers patrolling the highways, elections held, unemployment compensation paid and the state parks have stayed open in a limited manner. Roads are still being paved and the state offices have been back up and running this summer.
Yet, one of the most important functions of any government has been on hold since the pandemic started and that is jury trials in the Alabama Court System.
The past six months have seen the halt of jury trials to stop the spread of the coronavirus, but this week the Alabama Supreme Court is allowing jury trials to proceed forward. There will be a lot of discretion given on a county by county basis on what happens at the local courthouses, including the wearing of masks, gloves, and distancing procedures.
Some counties are proceeding forward, while others will continue to delay jury trials. Criminal trials will be the priority for some circuits in the foreseeable future.
Even with the Court allowing jury trials to proceed, the question will be whether citizens will answer those summons and will they feel safe to serve on a jury. For those individuals who are summoned to serve on a jury, judges will maintain the discretion to excuse or defer an individual’s service.
For the justice system to operate fairly, it is important to return to allowing juries to convene and hear cases. However, it must be done in a manner that is safe for not only the judge and jury but also to everyone in the courtroom from the prosecutors to the bailiffs and court reporters.
Let’s hope we can get back to the judicial branch operating as fully as it was before the pandemic, but in a safe manner for all involved.
Paul DeMarco is a former member of the Alabama House of Representatives